“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” –Amit Ray
It is only in the present moment – in the instant of here and now – that our experience takes on any real meaning or offers us any truth. Squandering our attention on the regrets of yesterday or the anticipation of tomorrow’s worries is how we distract ourselves from our real power and flame the fire of our deepest fears.
Letting go of the past means that we give up, finally and for good, not only the idea that we can fix what is past, but also the blaming narratives about what went wrong. Likewise recognizing the power of preparing in the present moment for what you aspire to create is very different from ruminating on the worries of what could come to pass.
Recognizing that it is only in this present moment that we have impact in our own lives is truly liberating. Without regret or worry, we discover we have the energy and space to create our lives.
Psychologist Carl Rogers once wrote “When I have been listened to and when I have been heard, I am able to perceive my world in a new way and to go on. It is astonishing how elements which seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens.”
In fact, most people can’t distinguish between the experience of being heard and being loved. And the beauty of the sheltered place of being heard is that it is just as powerful when we offer it to ourselves. This deep listening begins by asking ourselves authentic questions that bring us more deeply into the present moment feelings of any experience we are having.
Witness Body Anxiety
Anxiety isn’t a state of mind or even an experience that is produced exclusively by the mind. Rather, it’s an energy that lives in the body – and for that matter, in everybody at some point and for many every day. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses, impacting over 40 million people in the United States. Depending what study you look at, anywhere between 20 and 40% of the U.S. population suffers daily with some form of anxiety.
One of the most effective ways to work with anxious energy is through this recognition; getting out of our head and focusing our attention on feeling into, identifying, and naming the visceral experience of it.
Drop the Story Line
It is easy to see why and how we attach anxiety to the stories in our life. Linking our anxious experience to something going on around us helps to normalize the huge and changing waves of emotions that roll in and rush out of us with anxiety. One of my teachers, Pema Chodron, says that getting lost in our anxiety by ruminating on the stories is like kicking the wheel of our own suffering. This slippery slope of being anxious is so familiar, so sticky that it’s almost a seduction.
We don’t really want to suffer, but it’s also really hard to turn away. It takes all our attention to not make it worse. Without using our attention deliberately and separating the interior experience from the story, we feed the cycle of pain and lose ourselves inside of it. It takes both a lot of courage and a lot of practice to drop the story line and feel into the physical experience of anxiety.
Extend the Exhale
Finding a place to rest inside the discomfort of anxiety is in the breath. Most of us are not usually focused on our breath because it is an autonomic function that happens for us. But, it is truly amazing what bringing attention to this function can do for our overall emotional health. Bringing agency to our breathing helps us self-regulate and teaches the body how to rest.
An easy way to begin is to spend one minute tracking your inhales and exhales. If you have an Apple Watch and have not yet used the Breathe app, I urge you to try it. But no technology is necessary. Just counting the length of your inhale and extending even by one count your exhale will communicate to your mind and your body that life is okay. Or how about this: notice when you hold your breath, or when you are only breathing in shallow, short breaths.
Any attention you bring to your breath will bring you into the present moment, let you listen deeper and help you separate your emotions from the stories spinning around you.